Early in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ game against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, Andrei Kirilenko limped off the floor and went straight back to the locker room. He didn’t return for the rest of the 84-83 overtime-loss. He was also ruled out of their game on Thursday against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kirilenko’s absence versus the Lakers could spell bad news for the Wolves. Kirilenko is averaging 13.1 points, 2.9 assists, 1.1 blocks, 1.6 steals and six rebounds per game for Minnesota. He also has been crazy efficient shooting the ball this season, posting a 51.1 percent field-goal percentage.
His impact on the both ends of the floor for Minnesota is obvious. He’s one of their more versatile and efficient scorers on offense and causes a ton of problems on the defensive end with his length and quickness. But with their matchup against the Lakers, it’s even more of a problem.
The Wolves now are going to have to find someone else on the perimeter to consistently make mid-range jumpers and penetrate into the lane, both things Kirilenko excels at. Moreover, their backcourt is going to have to do a good bit of the work because Kirilenko being out allows the Lakers to focus on Nikola Pekovic on the interior.
Another thing that Kirilenko sitting out brings to light is Minnesota’s atrocious three-point shooting. They rank last in the NBA in three-point percentage, shooting just 30 percent as a team from beyond-the-arc. Kirilenko is by no means a dead-eye outside shooter, but without him in the lineup and the Lakers most likely putting their defensive focus on the interior, Minnesota might be forced into shooting more threes than they normally would. For a team that only makes 30 percent of their threes, that’s a really bad thing.
Kirilenko is possibly the most valuable player that the Wolves have had this season. That will undoubtedly be evident when they take the floor in Los Angeles on Thursday night. It’s pretty safe to say that the Timberwolves will wish they had him as the game gets going.